Astronomers Find 32 New Exoplanets
Confirming its reputation as an exoplanet discoverer extraordinaire, the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher team said Oct. 19 it has discovered 32 new planets existing outside Earth's solar system. Known as exoplanets, the discoveries increase the known exoplanets by 30 percent.
Data from HARPS has led to the discovery of more than 75 exoplanets in 30 planetary systems. The search for small planets-those with a mass of a few times that of Earth known as super-Earths and Neptune-like planets-has been given a dramatic boost. HARPS has facilitated the discovery of 24 of the 28 planets known with masses below 20 Earth masses.
"HARPS is a unique, extremely high precision instrument that is ideal for discovering alien worlds," Geneva University astronomer St??Â«phane Udry, part of the HARPS team, said in a statement. "We have now completed our initial five-year program, which has succeeded well beyond our expectations."
In 1999, ESO (European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere) opened bids to build for the ESO a 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile. Michel Mayor, from the Geneva Observatory, led a consortium to build HARPS, which was installed in 2003 and was soon able to measure the back-and-forward motions of stars by detecting small changes in a star's radial velocity.
In return for building the instrument, the HARPS consortium was granted 100 observing nights per year during a five-year period to carry out the systematic searches for exoplanets. The precision of HARPS has proved to be the most prolific method in the search for exoplanets.
"These observations have given astronomers a great insight into the diversity of planetary systems and help us understand how they can form," said HARPS team member Nuno Santos.